In a recent interview with Time Magizine, Shigeru Miyamoto, one of Nintendo's most talented game designers, revealed that if he and his team weren't careful enough, the popular Wii game Wii Fit could've been called "Mario Fitness" or something completely different.
When Miyamoto was asked if he would rather develop a new IP (Intellectual Property) or retool an existing IP for new gameplay, he responded with the following:
"Whenever I start working on something I always start with creating new gameplay. After that gameplay becomes more concrete, we look at which character is best suited to the gameplay. So I guess from my standpoint, the ideal situation would be that we’re creating an experience that’s so new and so unique that we can present it to consumers with a new character or IP in a way that would be easiest for them to really understand the concept and enjoy the gameplay. But it may also be that in some of those cases it makes more sense for it to involve some of the characters that are more familiar to our fans."
From this alone, it seems that rather than developing new characters, he starts from the gameplay aspect. If the gameplay works for one of his existing characters, he'll then use that character. In a way, this is unique due to other developers creating characters first and focusing on the gameplay last. With the Wii U and other Nintendo consoles, gameplay comes first. With other systems, graphics come first.
Afterwards, Miyamoto further explained that even if a game doesn't have a main character, it can still be a completely new IP. Read the excerpt below:
"When we created the original Wii Sports, we could have done it as a “Mario Sports” game, but we decided not to. Similarly with Wii Fit, that could have been a “Mario Fitness” game, but in both of those cases we ultimately decided that introducing those games as new IP or new franchises was a better approach. Because those games don’t have specific characters associated with them, people may not view them as new IP, but certainly when we created those games we intended them to be new franchises. It may be that in the future, as we’re generating new ideas, we’ll come across an idea that makes the most sense to release with a new character."
It's interesting to see that Nintendo doesn't like to recycle characters even though it may seem that way to gamers. From Miyamoto's statements, it's easy to assume that Nintendo only creates new franchises only when it's necessary. If Miyamoto and his team were to create an entirely new franchise for the Wii U with a whole new character, what would the gameplay be like? Only time can tell as the Wii U is less than 6 months old.